Can’t Miss Marketing

Lawyers often ask me:

  • Where should I start with business development?
  • How do I make the best use of my rainmaking time?
  • Are you out of your mind to suggest I spend that much time on business development? (The minimum is an hour a week, and the time commitment rises as your years in practice increase.  Check this link for insight into how you can serve more clients and also put in more hours on business development.)

The quote I’ve selected this month answers each of those questions.  Read it, and then consider how you can put this teaching into practice.

In marketing I’ve seen only one strategy that can’t miss — and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last.

~John Romero

What do you say when you ask for business?

A client recently confided that he had never actually asked for business from a potential client. Surprised (since I knew that his $275,000 book of business hadn’t just happened), I asked what he meant, and he responded that asking for the business means saying something like, “I’d like to handle that for you.”

A flat, bold statement is one way to ask for business, but as my client and I discussed, it’s just one of a wide variety of “asks” that he could make. Asking for business isn’t a nice way of describing demanding business, and it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper request that sticks out as an “ask”.  Instead, asking can be a gentle statement or question that affirms your interest or ability to help.

I’ve previously written about what to bear in mind when preparing to ask for business — or when you notice that you’re shying away from making a direct request. As a foundational piece, you must be clear that discussing a potential matter is beneficial for a client (if you ask helpful questions and/or provide useful insights) and that asking for the business is a natural continuation in which you’re offering to bring your skill to meet a need that you and the potential client have identified together.

In other words, there is no magic formula, you don’t have to craft a single “right” way to make your request, and you should not feel that you’re trying to put one over on your potential client. Instead, you should listen to the potential client, ask questions to clarify the situation and your potential client’s goals and concerns, and discuss relevant experience or ideas that you have.  And then you should offer to take the next step.

With the caveat that no two attorneys will likely ask for business in the same way, consider language along these lines:

  • Would you like me to outline an approach based on our conversation?
  • Based on what we’ve talked about today, would you be interested in moving forward? (Optional:  when?)
  • Please let me know if I can help you in any way with this issue.
  • I can help you with [summarize issue].  (Optional:  I’d be happy to do that.)

How many ways can you ask for business? Limitless.  But the only effective way is to engage in productive conversation with a potential client who has a current unmet need and to offer your assistance in a way that genuinely reflects who you are and how you relate to others.

Mind-Set Matters

The Power of Professionalism
The Seven Mind-Sets That Drive Performance and Build Trust

Lawyers and those who work with lawyers have taken to debating whether law is still a profession or whether it’s “just” a business. The substance of the debate matters deeply:  without attention to the business aspects of a legal practice, the practice will flounder and, ultimately, fail.  At the same time, the distinction is almost irrelevant, since many professionals attend to business as a part of their professional approach and we have many issues more deserving of attention than mere semantics.

While The Power of Professionalism seeks to define “prfessional much more broadly than the traditional meaning of one who works in the professions, the mindsets to which the subtitle alludes has special relevance for laywers.  Lawyers’ professionalism may be judged by clients largely based on public perception of lawyers’ trustworthiness.  According to a 2010 study, only 17% of respondents rated lawyers’ honesty and ethical standards as above average, and 35% rated those characteristics as below average. There’s work to be done.

Professionals know what they’re doing, both technically and in other tangible ways.  However, as important as technical competence is, professionals are not typically defined by their competence.  Technical competency is the minimum requirement when considering whether or not someone is a professional.

Too many lawyers expect that excellent legal skill is enough for a successful practice.  However, as The Power of Professionalism argues, skill also will not define a professional.  Skill is required, but knowing how to use that skill (knowledge that can be implemented, in other words, as opposed to pure intellectual knowledge) and using it in a way that produced trust, is the mark of a professional.

Bill Wiersma, the author of The Power of Professionalism, has identified several mind-sets of trusted professionals, which might be viewed as foundational principles for professionalism.

  1. Professionals have a bias for results. What’s more, those results are sustainable, consistently reproducible, and grounded in ethical behavior.
  2. Professionals realize (and act like) they’re part of something bigger than themselves. A trusted advisor (long the gold standard aspiration for lawyers) is one who puts clients ahead of his or own interest, without exception.  In the view of The Power of Professionalism, this aspect expands to include placing the team’s or the firm’s interest ahead of the individual’s.
  3. Professionals know things get better when they get better. While focusing on the overarching goals of someone (a client) or something (a firm) else, the professional will experience growth.  As I read this section, I flashed to lawyers who attend CLE programs to better serve their clients as opposed to those who attend merely to earn the required credits.
  4. Professionals have personal standards that often transcend organizational ones. Personal standards often derive from one’s “true north”, the core values that matter most.
  5. Professionals know that personal integrity is all they have. This mind-set is somewhat similar to #4, with the focus being on integrity based on authenticity, honesty, fulfilling commitments, and refusing to violate others’ trust.
  6. Professionals aspire to be masters of their emotions, not enslaved by them. This mindset is subdivided into three additional principles.
    a.  Professionals are respecting when it’s difficult to be respectful.
    b.  Professionals maintain their objectivity and keep their wits about them.
    c.  Professionals manage their ego and resist the urge for immediate gratification.
  7. Professionals aspire to reveal value in others. According to this principle, professionals seek to help others grow and succeed.

Whey does this matter for lawyers? In many cases, the standards of professionalism espoused by Wiersma are almost identical to the standards for solid leadership.  However, Wiersma expands these principles and demonstrates their applicability to day-to-day circumstances for a variety of workers, thus eliminating the objection that only those who have particular titles or responsibilities qualify as leaders.

Adopting the professionals’ mind-sets that Wiersma offers will also produce business development benefits. Revisit each of the mind-sets and envision a referral source attributing them to you.  Operating from these mindsets will help to grow relationships and will support a strong reputation.

You may not find anything new or earthshaking about The Power of Professionalism, but it’s an excellent reminder for lawyers at any stage of practice.

Client Care: The Good, The Bad, And The Just Plain Ugly

Studies show that happy clients tell very few of their friends about great client care experiences, while unhappy clients tell (on average) seven other people about problems they experienced. I’d like to share three client stories that I’ve labeled the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly, each with lessons you can learn about how to treat your clients.

The Good:  Good Measure Meals

I’ve previously shared how much I love Good Measure Meals, a service that provides fresh packaged meals that are healthy and taste great.  What I haven’t shared until today is that their customer service makes me even happier than their meals. When I was unexpectedly out of town for a few days and missed a meal pick-up, Phil sent an email to see if I was OK and to inquire whether I was having any problems with the meals.  When I switched from meal pick-up to delivery one week and mentioned that I’d switch back the next week, Harmony told me that she’d change it back for me, and she called to let me know that she’d done so.  And when my monthly plan was up for renewal, Harmony again reached out to ask if I wanted to make any changes before the plan renewed.

What can you learn from Good Measure Meals?  

Be proactive with your clients. Look for ways to make it even easier to work with you.  And when you tell a client you’ll do something, do it.

The Bad:  Unnamed Doctor’s Office

I had a bad experience in a doctor’s office a few weeks ago.  (Worse yet, I wrote about a negative experience with this same office in 2007.)  I arrived around 8:25 for an 8:30 appointment and happened to take a seat in the waiting room with a view through the receptionist’s seating area straight through to a back hallway.  While I waited (and watched the minutes tick by), I observed an animated conversation between two members of the doctors’ staff.  The conversation seemed to center on a lampshade that one woman was holding, and it went on for about 15 minutes.  (I remember because I was puzzled how a conversation about a lampshade could last that long, but I digress.)

Imagine my surprise when I was finally called for my appointment around 8:50 — by “Kate”, the woman who’d been talking lampshades.  What did I learn?  That Kate had no regard for my schedule and put interior decorating ahead of patients.  In fact, because the lampshade was on a table in the office I was directed to, I casually mentioned it, only to learn that Kate had purchased the lampshade for her apartment that morning.  And the apology for the delay?  Nonexistent.  I’ve been a patient in this practice for more than thirty years (seeing first the father, then the son), but I won’t be back.

What can you learn from this doctor’s office?  Value your clients’ time. That means not only being on time for appointments (or apologizing when you’re unavoidably delayed), but also leaving clients sufficient time to review work product, to ask questions, and so on.

The Ugly:  Unnamed Law Firm

I recently heard a story that blew my mind.  Short version:  a firm represented a client in a divorce.  About two months after the matter was concluded, the client received an invoice for fees incorrectly posted to her file, and as a part of clearing that up, the client requested the return of remaining escrow and trust funds.  A month went by; no funds received.  The client inquired again.  About a week later, she received checks from the firm, addressed in her married name, even though the firm had drafted the final order that (among other things) restored her maiden name.  The client shared that although she had used her maiden name exclusively since contacting the firm, the firm used her married name instead and she didn’t address it because it seemed so petty.  Asked how the rest of the representation went, she snorted and responded, “Well, aside from the fact that my own lawyer didn’t know my name, I suppose it wasn’t bad.”

What can you learn from this law firm? The obvious answer:  use your client’s name and get it right.  Don’t ever put your client in the position of needing to correct or to overlook something so basic.  The deeper lesson is that it’s important to let your client know that you’re paying attention to details. Although the use of the wrong name didn’t affect the client’s representation, it did make her wonder what other details the firm might be ignoring.  You must not only represent your client well, you must create the perception that you’re doing so, especially in matters in which your client is unable to judge the merits of the work you’re doing.

The Bottom Line

We can all ignore the “niceties” of working with clients, focusing instead on the heart of the representation, which is the legal work.  However, your clients will notice everything, and they may evaluate the client service your offer more thoroughly than the legal service. Switch your way of thinking:  if your legal service is the meat of the representation, client service is the bread that holds together the engagement sandwich.

And why does this matter?  Clients are at the heart of your practice.  If you’re seeking to become your clients’ trusted advisor, or to receive referrals from your clients, you must focus on client service.

Two quotes to hammer this point home:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
~Theodore Roosevelt